So you want to see Tokyo? Here is where to start. I'll guide you step-by-step through all the big questions: When, where, why and how. And, of course, how much.
Why Tokyo? What Is Special About Tokyo?
Tokyo is one of the world's great cities. It is a hi-tech showcase of modern Japan, and yet it still retains the soul of traditional Japan. It manages to be extremely comfortable, even luxurious, while remaining decidedly mysterious and exotic. First and foremost, Tokyo is a food-lover's paradise. Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any city on earth. So if you're after culinary adventure – look no further – Tokyo has food that will change your life! And the shopping is incredible – if you can't find it in Tokyo, it probably doesn't exist. So, beg, borrow or steal. Take those vacation days you have stored up. And get on a plane to Tokyo! I guarantee you – you will be damn glad you did.
How Much Time Should I Spend In Tokyo?
If you had the time and money, you could spend a month in Tokyo and not feel that you were wasting your time. But, for most mortals with jobs and limited budgets, I'd suggest spending three or four days in Tokyo. For example, if you have a week to spend in Japan, I'd recommend three days in Tokyo and four in Kyoto. If you need help deciding how much time to spend in Tokyo versus Kyoto, see my Tokyo or Kyoto page. For some specific Tokyo-Kyoto itineraries, see my Tokyo Itineraries page , which has itineraries that include both cities.
What Should I See In Tokyo? What Are Tokyo's Must-See Attractions?
Unlike Kyoto, which has dozens of must-see attractions like temples and gardens, Tokyo is a city that you should experience in its entirety. You just have to walk through it or sit down for coffee and let it walk by you. Of course, you probably do want some structure for your time in the city. So, check out my Things to Do in Tokyo page. And, for specific itineraries based on number of days or specific interests, see my Tokyo Itineraries page.
Is Tokyo Expensive? What Is A Reasonable Tokyo Budget?
Believe it or not, Japan is the cheapest country in the developed world. Yes, I know you don't believe me, so please check out the actual numbers on my Japan: It's Cheaper Than You Think page. This is especially true now that the yen is the weakest its been in years. Still, Tokyo is the most expensive city in Japan.
Sample Daily Tokyo Budgets
(Per Person/Exchange Rates for Oct 2015)
Budget Tokyo Trip Pricing
- Guesthouse accommodation (per person): Y3500
- Two simple restaurant meals: Y2000
- Public transport: Y1500
- One average museum admission: Y800
- Sundry purchases: Y1000
- Total: Y8800 (about US$73, €65)
Mid-Range Tokyo Trip Pricing
- Moderate hotel accommodation (per person/twin occupancy): Y11,000
- Two moderate restaurant meals: Y4000
- Public transport plus one taxi ride: Y2500
- Two average museum admissions: Y1600
- Sundry purchases: Y2000
- Total: Y21,100 (about US$175, €156)
Where Should I Stay In Tokyo?
Unlike Kyoto, which has lots of ryokan (traditional Japanese inns), Tokyo is all about hotels. While there are hotels everywhere in the city, you should definitely try to stay in one of the city's main urban hubs on the JR Yamanote loop line. The best places to stay are: Shinjuku, the Tokyo Station Area, Ginza, Marunouchi or Roppongi. For details, see my Where to Stay in Tokyo page. For recommended hotels in these districts, see my Tokyo Hotels page. And if you're keen to stay in a ryokan in Tokyo, there are still several good options - see my Tokyo Ryokan page for my personal favorites.
When's The Best Time Of Year To Visit Tokyo?
You can visit Tokyo at any time of year – it's never too hot, too rainy or too cold to visit. The summers (from late June to early September) can be hot and humid, but not impossibly so. The winters (from early December to late March) can be cold, but not freezing. Spring and fall are obviously the ideal times to visit, with warm to cool temps and generally sunny skies.
The late March/early April cherry blossom season is very popular, for obvious reasons, but it can be hard to get hotel rooms (book well in advance!). The November fall foliage season is also great and it's generally easier to get rooms. For more details on the best seasons to visit, check out my Best Time to Go to Tokyo page.
Is It Easy To Get Around Tokyo?
Tokyo is a huge sprawling city. In fact, it's really best to think of Tokyo as several cities connected by an excellent public transport system. Because the subways and trains are so good in Tokyo, it's actually pretty easy to get around. For more details, see my Getting Around Tokyo page. And here's a priceless tip: Prepaid cards like Pasmo or Suica make getting around Tokyo by public transport a snap. See my Prepaid Cards – Pasmo and Suica page for details.
Is It Easy To Travel Around Tokyo With Kids?
I have two small children, so I know what it's like getting around Tokyo with children and keeping them entertained. Thus, I can say with authority that Tokyo is a GREAT place to travel with children. First, you don't have to worry about food safety or crime. More importantly, there are plenty of green spaces, family-friendly hotels and child-friendly attractions. For more tips on traveling in Tokyo with your kids, check out my Tokyo Itineraries With Children page.
Is It Easy To Get Money Out Of ATMs In Tokyo?
ATMs that work with international bank and credit cards are not as common in Japan as they are in many other countries. But, you can get money out of postal ATMs and ATMs at convenience stores like 7-11. For more on getting money in Japan, see my Getting Money in Kyoto page (yes, it's about Kyoto but most of the information holds true for Tokyo).
Should I Have A Tour Guide For Tokyo?
You don't need a guide to enjoy Tokyo, but having a guide will add a lot of depth to your understanding of the city. A guide will also free you from having to think about the logistics of getting around and making the most efficient use of your time. Finally, a guide can help you enjoy local restaurants without any communication difficulties.
Hiring a guide for a six-hour tour on your first day will give you the confidence to explore on following days on your own and a guide can give you some advice about what to see later in your trip. If you'd like to hire a guide, please visit my guided tours site ChrisRowthorn.com
Can I Meet A Geisha In Tokyo?
Kyoto is the heart of the geisha world. But, it is possible to arrange geisha entertainment in Tokyo. For details, please visit my guided tours site ChrisRowthorn.com
Can I See Sumo Wrestling In Tokyo?
Tokyo is the best place in Japan to see sumo wrestling. There are tournaments in January, May and September. For more details on purchasing tickets, see my How To Buy Tickets For A Tokyo Sumo Match page.
Is Tokyo Safe For Travellers?
Japan is well known as a safe place. The crime rate is absurdly low. People are honest. And, there is no political instability. Of course, you should use normal common sense and female travelers should take the usual precautions (ie, don't hitchhike alone and don't walk alone at night in an area that seems dodgy).
OK, I Want To Visit! So How Do I Get To Tokyo?
Tokyo is served by two main airports: Tokyo is served by two airports: Narita International Airport (NRT) and Haneda Airport (HND). Both airports serve international flights. Haneda is closer to the city, so if you can get a flight into Haneda, it will be easier, faster and cheaper to get into the city. For full details on these two airports and airport transport see my Tokyo Airport Transport page.
You can compare Tokyo flight prices and times on a reputable comparison site.
If you're travelling to other cities besides Tokyo during your trip to Japan, you can save a lot of money by buying a Japan Rail Pass before you arrive in Japan. See my guide Japan Rail Pass: How To Get It for the full details of how the pass works and how to buy it.
Tokyo Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Tokyo guide
- Check Tokyo accommodation availability and pricing on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Tokyo
- You can buy a Japan SIM card online for collection on arrival at Tokyo Narita or Haneda airports. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Compare airline flight prices and timings for the best Japan flight deals.
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass – here's why it's worth it
- A prepaid Suica card makes travelling around Tokyo much easier - here's how
- Get esssential travel insurance for Tokyo – World Nomads is well-regarded (and here's why)